March 13, 2003

Troop Deployments and Their Implications

I've been watching the diplomatic maneuvering at the UN and in Turkey and the buildup of troops around Iraq, and I have been wondering what is going on. From a standpoint of what we say we are attempting to achieve, the US government's actions raise all kinds of questions.

We claim that we are going to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, and that no amount of inspections will be able to do that, unless Hussein is willing to let it happen. He's not, and I don't see him changing his mind. More importantly, I don't see us trying to change his mind. We also claim that we are doing this in order to remove a major supporter of terrorism, to bring democracy to Iraq and hopefully by extension to its neighbors, and to get ourselves in position to tackle Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Actually, we don't publicly claim the last motivation, but it's really obvious given our long-term goals in destroying terrorism that we have to have a base to launch attacks which is not dependent on the charity of other nations.

We claim that we are going to go with or without the UN's approval, but we are continuing to dither with the UN long past the time when it's become obvious that the UN is unwilling to act to enforce its past resolutions, and many nations in the UN would prefer to hurt the US diplomatically than to have the US remove Hussein from power. Further, any motivation of helping Prime Minister Blair has quite obviously run past its uses. Any help or harm to the good Sir has been done, and so any delay for that reason is worse than useless, as it not only provides assistance to an ally, but also allows our enemies time to act against us.

We claim that we have more than enough troops already in place to invade and occupy Iraq with relative ease, and enough troops to have reserves in case of untoward happenings. We further claim that we will have a northern attack with or without Turkey's blessing (well, the blessing of their Parliament, at least). Yet we are only now deploying heavy units like 1st Armored and 3rd Cavalry, which won't be in place until after the window of reasonable action (that is, before the Summer starts in the desert) has passed.


  • We claim we will occupy Iraq in order to: disarm Iraq, particularly of weapons of mass destruction; stop Iraqi material and logistical help to terrorists; and bring democracy to an Arab state, both for its own good and as an example to its autocratic or theocratic neighbors.
  • We have a long-term interest in establishing a large base of operations in the middle of the states supporting terrorism, which base is not subject to the political whims of states who frequently support terrorism themselves, albeit less directly than, say, Iraq or Iran do.
  • We claim that we will do this with or without UN support.
  • France has made absolutely clear, and other nations have made somewhat clear, that the UN will not even declare that Saddam has not lived up to Resolution 1441, which stated four months ago that Saddam had to disarm "immediately."
  • We keep going back to the UN over and over and over again, to no avail.

  • We claim to have sufficient forces available to conquer and occupy Iraq, with or without the British or the Turks (should either government be constrained by Parliamentary maneuvering).
  • We claim to be able to have a northern invasion option regardless of the actions of the Turkish Parliament.
  • We are still moving large numbers of heavy ground units, at great cost, from their long-term bases in the US and Europe (Germany, in particular) into the theater.
  • Our window of easy operations closes in less than six weeks, particularly since we expect chemical and biological agents to be used on the battlefield by the Iraqis, which means our troops will be wearing MOPP suits. Wearing MOPP suits in combat in the desert in the Summer is going to cause additional casualties from heat exhaustion, fatigue and impaired judgement.
  • It will take longer than six weeks to get the recently-deployed heavy units into position, so they are useless in terms of an attack on Iraq.

Given all of these things, why is our government seemingly standing still? Why have we not already attacked? If we set a timeline based on UN negotiations, this should still end by the President's declared deadline of Monday, yet the government is apparently willing to let events continue on past that without committing to the attack. Why? Where are the additional heavy units we are deploying going, and what is their mission?

I have come up with three basic scenarios which fit the facts as I know them. It could be that we are going to use the newly-deploying units for occupation duty in Iraq, so that we can refit and rearm the units which fight the war, and give them a rest before their next major commitment. The second option that I see is that we intend to roll straight through Iraq, using the combat units for occupation duty, and the followon units to attack into Syria or Iran or even Saudi Arabia (much less likely than the first two), or, as a variant, they could be used for a serious northern option by invading through Syria into Iraq. It could also be that we are going to send the newly-deploying units to some other theater. Either Korea or Zimbabwe stand out as fine places to go. Each of these scenarios has different implications for what US action in the UN means, as well as what our long-term strategy might be.

Basically, our maneuver elements in theater are:

  • 2nd BCT, 82nd Airborne
  • 3rd ACR
  • 3rd Mech Infantry
  • 101st Airborne
  • elements of 10th Mountain
  • 1st Marines
  • 1 (UK) Armored
  • 16 (UK) Air Assault Bde
  • a Royal Marine Commando
  • 4th Infantry (waiting on permission to deploy through Turkey)

And in transit or on notice, we have:

  • 1st Armored
  • 1st Cavalry
  • 1st Infantry
  • 173rd Airborne Bde
  • 2nd ACR
  • 26th MEU

Note that we have as much combat power in transit or alerted to move as we actually have in theater. So let's look at scenarios.

The first scenario is that most commonly discussed in the news media and blogs, and seems to be the assumed wisdom: the additional troops are to act as reserves, or even as part of the attack if we wait long enough, and we'll garrison these units in Iraq (moving them out of Europe, mostly), and refit the units who did the brunt of the fighting.

If this is the intent, the implication is that the military expects the war and occupation to be more difficult than military officials are publicly saying. After all, it's pretty amazing to use more troops for the occupation of Iraq than for its conquest! This also implies that there will be no real ability to wage regional wars faster than every 18 months, since the amount of time it would take to refit, retrain and redeploy this amount of force out of area is large. Once the units are tied down with occupation duties, it will be difficult to turn them back into an offensive force.

It seems to me more likely that we will use a small force for occupation - down to a few brigades after the first year - and a locally-derived army and police force trained, equipped and possibly even led by the US. Not only is this more cost-effective, it also begins the process of US withdrawal, which is almost certain to happen within 5 years after the war ends. Moreover, that approach would free up the limited number of heavy units the US maintains for combat in other places, and would make it easier to rapidly return reservists and guardsmen to their civilian lives.

The problem with the logic of using the currently-deploying forces to occupy Iraq is that it doesn't fit with the other events now occurring. How does this explain the dithering in the UN? While it does allow us an easy way to get our major units out of Germany, which is certainly nice in the long run since Europe is no longer the central theater in which our force will likely be exercised, there are other ways to do this that wouldn't strain our transport units at the same time we're trying to support a war in Iraq. In fact, we could use this same excuse after the war is over, using the ships in a three-legged pattern: troops from Iraq home, empty to Europe, troops from Europe to Iraq. Given the logistical strain of moving the units, it is fair to say that we are going to use those units for something that can't be done otherwise, and soon.

It is certainly true that we might want to have a large force in Iraq, but the real reason for that force is to put pressure on the surrounding states to reform. Iran, of course, is part of the Axis of Evil for its support of terrorism and militant Islamic revolution combined with its active programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. Syria is equally complicit in terrorism with Iran - particularly in its support of Hezbollah and Hamas - and is occupying Lebanon, exercising effective control over the entire country. Saudi Arabia is one of the key states in funding terrorist groups, supplying terrorist cadres, and propagandizing for militant Islamic Fundamentalism in general. Each of these states needs to reform or fall to our control. This leads to the second possible scenario, which I happen to think is fairly likely.

This would actually account for the US/UK time spent in the UN in two ways. First, the delay gives us a way to get forces in position to achieve real strategic surprise by effectively not pausing between taking down Iraq and taking down one of its more troublesome neighbors. Second, by constantly reinforcing in the public mind the fecklessness of the UN - even the threat that the UN could pose to US and British citizens by preventing action to remove threats against them - it becomes easier for the US and UK to jointly withdraw from the UN, which would be a necessary prerequisite for further action that doesn't take years to get approved.

Overall, this makes some sense, although it leaves the US in an odd position. It would mean that the President would be exceeding his mandate from Congress to only fight Iraq, and could lead to a serious Constitutional crisis. However, there is one way in which a Constitutional crisis need not arise: an unexpected northern option.

Stick with me here, because this is a pretty brittle line of reasoning. In fact, it is almost certainly not what the US and UK have in mind. Still....

OK, let's say that the US is actually trying to use Turkey's internal politics as well as the UN's politics in order to delay the attack on Iraq. With the combat units for the Iraq attack basically in place and supplied, the sealift exists to move the deploying heavy units listed above. What if the US had decided to go to northern Iraq through Syria? I have been unable to find out what Marine units are afloat in the Mediterranean Sea, but I suspect that there are at least two MEUs. This would be enough to create a friendly beachhead to unload and form up the heavier units which would exploit that beachhead.

This could be justified as covered under the war declaration passed last year in the same way that the Allies attacked Morocco in WWII to get at the Germans in N. Africa. These units would quickly end up in pretty heavy combat with the Syrian army, because that army would resist a US invasion. This would almost certainly result in the US doing to Syria what it is going to do to Iraq. In other words, we would solve the longer-term problem of Syria without having to go back to Congress and to convince the Congress and the US public of the need to fight Syria. It would also be a powerful lesson to Iran and Saudi Arabia, which I think are the two most important state targets in the region in terms of actually ending terrorism permanently, and preventing terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

OK, so that's not very realistic. President Bush would almost certainly not take that kind of liberty with acts of Congress. But it does at least give a plausible reason for delaying and delaying the attack while getting shredded in the UN.

The third option, that the troops are intended for another theater, is actually fairly likely. It would make sense to reinforce American troops in Korea, given the tense situation there, but it is odd to think of us doing that at the same time as Donald Rumsfeld is saying that we could withdraw our troops from Korea altogether (especially with the S. Korean hostility to the US troops right now). It is unlikely that we'd spend the effort to move this much force anywhere except the Mideast or the Koreas, although Africa cries out for democratization.

In the end, though, this still does not explain what we are doing in the UN. There is something that does, though: perhaps the reality is that we have been preparing the US and British populations for a simultaneous US/UK pullout from the UN. This would free the US and UK for action elsewhere with a much faster turnaround than would be the case otherwise. I don't think, though, that this action would come anywhere other than in the Mideast. We certainly don't want to fight a nuclear-armed N. Korea, and any country not in the Mideast would be difficult (politically) to attack without first going to Congress. Given that we don't need the troops for Iraq in the short term, my best guess is that we'll be at war in either Syria or Iran next, and soon.

UPDATE (3/16): I understand from three different sources now that some units are being issued desert camoflage, and others the green (European 1?) scheme. This indicates to me that we do not plan on attacking Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya or in the horn of Africa with these units; or on using them for Iraqi occupation duty. Syria/Lebanon is a possibility still, given their terrain, as is N. Korea.

Posted by Jeff at March 13, 2003 11:59 PM | Link Cosmos

Not that it was the reason we dithered, but the longer we did sit dithering, the more the American people started to support the war, and perhaps to distrust the UN.

I'm unaware of any poll that would support the latter hypothesis, but it would seem that it would go hand in hand with the former.

Posted by: bigwig on March 17, 2003 11:53 PM

3d ACR is not in theater yet, nor will they be in the near future. They're still at Fort Carson, as is the 3d Brigade of 4th ID.

Posted by: Andrew Olmsted on March 18, 2003 06:35 AM

Apparently 1st Armored is not moving either, due to unavailability of transportation. I'm beginning to think that a lot of the units which have been alerted might end up not moving into the theater at all. Perhaps the alert orders for these units were more to get the units ready to move quickly in case things go really bad, rather than showing an intent to actually use them in the short term. That would actually make a lot more sense than that we need more follow-on forces than forces in the initial attack and occupation.

Posted by: Jeff Medcalf on March 18, 2003 07:33 AM
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